Whiny, self-obsessed, not politically engaged enough — the
accusations directed at millennials by older generations seem to
Millennials, or anyone born between 1980 and 2000, often get
painted as pampered do-gooders with a naive worldview, whose
priorities extend only to getting sabbaticals and being allowed
to work from home.
Generation Y “has never been involved nor has it ever been
engaged in politics,” Edzard Reuter, former head of Daimler,
said to Südkurier in 2016.
That may apply to a few among the younger generation, but perhaps
these generic criticisms are actually a little baseless and
overlook the bigger picture — especially coming from the baby
boomers, who will soon be reaching retirement having left their
children and theirs in a world that’s seemingly impossible to
Decades of disregard for the climate, unfair policies, and
structures being implemented between the generations and
questionable ideas concerning success in the workplace have left
18 to 38-year-olds a heavy weight to bear.
Twenty-one young people from Germany told Business Insider of the
problems the baby boomers have created and perpetuated in Germany
and how they can be solved:
‘Let’s stop talking about what’s gone wrong.’
We’re hurtling towards the edge of a cliff at full pelt — it
isn’t for the sake of science that we’re trying to figure out the
quantity by which sea levels are set to rise; it’s about
Together, with more than 67,000 other children and young people
from our Plant for the Planet initiative, I’ve committed myself
to combatting the climate crisis. And yes, perhaps the older
generation is listening to us but are they doing enough?
The climate crisis is the greatest challenge of our time. The CO2
clock is ticking. What must we do and what can we do right now?
Well, we can massively reduce our CO2 emissions. And we can plant
1,000 billion trees to absorb a quarter of man-made CO2. I’d say
to the older generations, to company bosses and to politicians:
“Let’s stop talking about what’s gone wrong or what’s going wrong
— let’s plant trees together and save our future.”
‘It’s older people who get to call the shots on pensions — yet
they no longer have to cough up.’
Most baby-boomers will be retiring soon, which will put
considerable pressure on our pension system. There’s massive
disparity between the number of working people and the increasing
number of pensioners for whom those working people are footing
I think a simple and logical solution would be if everyone had to
work for a period of time during their latter years. And
retirement should be linked to life expectancy. I’m sceptical
about who decides what’s what when it comes to pensions. You only
find older people sitting on the Pensions Commission, who no
longer foot the bill themselves. We younger people have to hand
out payments but aren’t given a say.
‘The biggest problem the baby boomers have left us isn’t that
they haven’t grown out of their crap.’
The biggest problem the baby boomers have dumped on us isn’t that
they haven’t grown out of their crappy habits: it’s the state
they’ve in which they’ve left the future of our pension system.
Pay-as-you-go financing, which has been successfully practiced
for decades, will come under increasing pressure as more baby
boomers leave the workforce and begin receiving benefits from the
pension fund. This news comes as no surprise but politics has, so
far, failed to make provisions for that day, when it comes.
Fewer contributors and more beneficiaries means great challenges
will be posed for the statutory pension for a good 15 years. How
these challenges will be managed isn’t just a technical question.
In fact, some are taking the opportunity — through scandalous
inaction — to slowly chip away at the principle of solidarity
when it comes to pensions and to privatise them. If all employees
became contributors, we could increase contributions slightly
and, if necessary, avoid shying away from tax subsidies.
‘We’ve inherited the baby boomers’ workaholic attitude and taken
it to the next level.
The notion that Generation Y has no interest in professional
success and think of the home office as synonymous with doing
nothing is certainly not new — and unfortunately, it’s firmly
rooted in the minds of many among the older generation. I
actually believe we’ve inherited their workaholic attitude —
always better, always more, always higher — and that we’ve taken
what the baby boomers did and pushed it much further.
Whether among friends, colleagues or in reports in the media — no
other generation linked with topics such as burnout or partly
unpaid overtime as often as ours. The demands on our generation
when it comes to starting a career are enormous. You’re expected
to have five years of professional experience after completing
your studies as well as to nearly have finished your PhD. Of
course, you can’t solely blame the baby boomers, but they’ve
always stressed the importance of establishing a career and
reinforced that it was the key to a successful and happy life.
Although we’ve taken on this attitude, we’d actually do a lot
better to leave it behind. Generation Y continues to work a lot,
but having a private life is much more important than money:
leisure and downtime shouldn’t be overlooked.
Our generation is on its way to achieving the ideal work-leisure
balance and to putting the baby boomers’ workaholic madness to
‘Too much emphasis on progress and performance is a key problem
we’ve inherited from the older generation.’
A serious problem we’ve inherited from the older generation is
this fixation on progress and performance. In our tireless
efforts to push boundaries, whatever the cost, there’s usually
little room to address the often serious consequences. There’s no
doubt about it: constant growth and development does pay off and,
as a species, we have to take certain risks every now and then in
order to move forward and survive. But pushing boundaries mustn’t
become the objective itself nor must it come at the cost that it
In order to steer us into a desirable future, we need those in
decision-making positions to be sharp. They need both the courage
to change yet the informed judgment to pick up on warning signs
too. To ensure we don’t continue to deplete our resources, we
need a clear plan that takes into consideration the effects of
our actions. Otherwise, we’ll leave our future generations with
more — possibly even more serious — problems than those we have
inherited, whether they be nuclear waste, the bees dying off or
‘Our education systems barely differ to those of the previous
generation — and neither has the emphasis on grades and targets
in the world of work, unfortunately.’
I’m firm on the notion that we owe much to the those who came
before us. Especially the generation born in 1968, who
revolutionised so much and helped break down so many structures.
But one area in which far too little has happened in recent
decades is education. Our education systems have barely changed
from those of the previous generation — and neither has the
emphasis on grades and targets in the world of work,
At the age of 10, our children are still “sorted” into schools —
not based on their individual talents, but purely according to
their grades. Applicants are still assessed according to their
qualifications on paper far too often, and not by what they
actually know. And academic degrees are still worth more than
I still remember the look of horror on the faces of my first
boyfriend and his parents when I announced I was leaving high
school as soon as I legally could, to follow my heart and become
a childcare worker.
But I think I learned more life lessons through doing so than I
could have ever done at university.
And that’s exactly what our generation so urgently needs: lessons
in life. More and more tasks are being taken over by machines and
artificial intelligence. The skills Generation Y needs in
professional life today are not obedience, authority and academic
knowledge, but empathy, flexibility and problem-solving.
Our generation must adapt quickly to new circumstances, because
the job you did yesterday may look quite different tomorrow. And
the office is no longer about sitting at a desk from nine until
five; it’s about working at a time and place that maximises one’s
quality of work, based on the individual.
That’s why I’m committed to ensuring our future generations get
better human and digital education, so they make our world more
human and each individual person can be as he or she is — and
thus achieve their own best performance.
‘Those who monopolise most of the power are, on average, much too
Today’s prosperity is probably the greatest legacy of the
previous generation. We should definitely be grateful for it. But
it’s not as though it’s being passed down to younger generations
without its drawbacks. The downside is that his focus on
prosperity means few provisions have been made for the future and
we haven’t adapted to our current challenges.
Those who monopolise most of the power are still, on average, far
too old. Brexit or the falling investment rate in our current
budget are demonstrative of this and show that our generation is
still trapped in a gilded cage. At some point, young Germans are
going to escape that cage and find that the country is no longer
at the top of the list of industrial nations.
This power needs to be handed over to the younger generation at
an early stage. We’re ready to take on the responsibility and to
start restructuring things.
‘The older generation knows little about what constitutes a
healthy and balanced diet.’
Abundance in food and convenience have featured heavily in the
kitchens of the post-war generation. Where meat had previously
featured rarely on the dining table, it was almost a compulsory,
everyday part of meals in the 1950s. But it had to be simple,
fast and cheap.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that this kind of practice can’t
go on indefinitely for future generations.
Due to this abundance and a lack of true appreciation for food,
some among the older generation have little idea about what
constitutes a healthy, balanced diet. What’s more, over the years
a lot of marketing-driven pseudo-science — which, simply put, is
often wrong and sometimes even dangerous — has persisted.
Questions like: “Where do vegans get protein from if they don’t
eat meat?” or the myth that milk consumption is good for the
bones (when the opposite is true) are still firmly anchored in
their minds and will only be shifted with a lot of effort.
We try to set a good example and show that vegan life is anything
but boring, that we don’t just live off salad or tofu — that the
kitchen can be a place to have fun. We’re trying to show that
cooking with friends, either alone or in pairs, is not another
tedious chore; it’s the best thing you can do.
‘Politicians must take us and our ideas seriously.’
The baby boomers, our parents and theirs, have been instrumental
in ensuring we grew up with high living standards. I’m grateful
for that but we’ve also inherited a few problems, one of them
being the pension situation. Like many in my generation, I don’t
assume I’ll be provided for in old age. The level of baby boomers
being paid for by us is ever increasing while there are fewer of
us to foot the bill. It’s great that people are living longer but
the subsidy for the pension system is already the largest item in
the German budget.
At the same time, less and less is being invested in the future:
for example, in education and in infrastructure. My generation is
outnumbered. But those who focus only on large voter groups are
putting the future of our country at risk in favour of short-term
electoral success. Politicians must take us and our ideas
seriously. Ultimately it will help not only one generation but
the whole country.
‘We know humanity has power over the Earth’s biophysical systems,
thanks to our predecessors.’
For some time, we’ve known humanity affects and has control over
the Earth’s biophysical systems more than any other force of
nature — knowledge we’ve attained only thanks to our
predecessors. It is both a blessing and a curse for our
Never before have so many people been able to inhabit our planet
and never before have commodities like regular holiday flights
been so easy and readily affordable.
At the same time, hurricanes, floods and heat waves have
threatened to destroy (and, in many cases, have destroyed) the
lives and homes of millions.
My personal goal, through a more responsible approach than
previous generations, is to help our generation ensure this power
sticks around long term, instead of putting it at risk by
inviting irreversible climate disasters.
‘Older generations aren’t prepared to take risks.’
Setting up a business in Germany is far too complex; it should be
more straightforward. Other countries are well ahead and we
should be moving on as soon as possible. The tax system in
Germany is also massively outdated and makes it extremely
difficult for those looking to get started with a business.
Start-ups could be much better supported with tax reforms so the
start-ups could focus more on taking care of their business.
Singapore has attracted startups from all over the world with its
simple control system and has become the hub of the crypto scene.
Our political structures are also too slow to change and aren’t
able to keep up with innovation. Things have to change on this
A recent survey by U.S. News showed Germany
was in first place in the “Entrepreneurship” category, ahead of
Japan and the USA. It’s clear Germany is at the forefront despite
the clear room for improvement.
Work has also changed: people used to stay in the same job their
whole life, which is why it used to be feasible to work without
constantly developing and learning. Today we seem to switch jobs
every year or two. I think it has a lot to do with the Internet.
We always need to be ready to learn new things and take risks.
And many opportunities and possibilities arise with the Internet,
if you’re open to it — cryptocurrencies are something I’m
currently heavily involved in and open to, and I realise older
There’s conflict simply because older generations always advocate
stability and safety over risk-taking, which they aren’t prepared
to do. I can only speak for myself but if I’d never taken risks,
I’d never have learned. We have to learn through trial and error
that you can’t make money from anything and everything. Failure
has become a valid part of working life, even if older
generations still don’t want to admit it.
But older generations are starting to accept the start-up scene
for what it is: it’s fast-moving, involves risk-taking and isn’t
‘The older generation has left European peace in a fragile
The rapid rise in greenhouse gases, the dramatically worsening
climate crisis, the question of nuclear waste disposal, the
irreversible death of countless plant and animal species — these
are just some of the many consequences of failed climate and
environmental policies from previous generations. Because they
haven’t relied on sustainability, they’ve dumped the consequences
of and responsibility for their actions onto future generations.
We’re now having to face a mammoth challenge together: to keep
global warming below two degrees to give future generations the
chance to make mistakes.
As for Europe, our younger generation has inherited the task of
establishing European peace, a project which the older generation
has left in a sorry state. The continually rising rate of youth
unemployment within the EU, austerity policies, Brexit — all of
these things have greatly weakened the notion of the “European
community” and reinforced right-wing nationalist and populist
forces in Europe. I myself have close ties with Greece, and over
the years I’ve witnessed the destructive effects of austerity
there, and have also seen growing disillusionment towards the EU.
We have to stop this in its tracks and do it now, because lasting
peace between us all is the most basic of prerequisites for
taking on the many challenges ahead and finding solutions for
Where justice and gender equality are concerned, the older
generation have set us on a path of clear progress, particularly
as regards legal equality between the sexes. While we have to
defend this success, we also have to continue fighting for 100%
equality between men and women, whether in family and work, pay
or pension and the end of sexual violence towards women and
‘Digitisation is largely a generational issue.’
Being digital means being online, networking, being open to new
business models — and being young. It seems to be a largely
generational issue: older people are less likely to be online
than younger people, which is a pity because digitisation opens
up many new possibilities, especially for people who are aging.
It can simplify and enrich everyday life. I hope people of all
ages will greet digitisation with open arms and optimism, but
obviously not without a healthy dose of scepticism. Networking is
at the heart of the digital world, and could contribute to a
better level of understanding between young and old. And it would
help us learn much more from older people and vice versa.
‘Pension plans are a big disappointment.’
The subsequent drop in birth rate as a result of the rise of the
contraceptive pill among the baby boomers is exacerbating
demographic change. This has resulted in a shortage of
specialists and labour in all areas of the economy. We young
entrepreneurs and managers in particular are suffering from this
as employers. Moreover, our country’s pension plans are a huge
disappointment for our generation and an attack on
intergenerational justice, particularly in view of demographic
changes. The question of b illions of funding for the “maternal
pension” that’s been proposed in Germany remains open.
What can be done to increase employment rates and to mitigate the
consequences of demographic change, as well as the pensions
package? We need to look at options for flexible retirement. The
statutory retirement age should be done away with. And working
time law needs to be fundamentally reformed.
‘Climate change presents us with challenges that will dictate the
opportunities of future generations.’
We’ve inherited a lot of problems to do with CO2 in the
atmosphere. Climate change today presents us with a task — and
how we manage this task will directly determine the opportunities
available for future generations. That’s why I’m fully committed
to limiting climate change as much as possible. We will only
succeed with a market-based climate policy in which politicians
set clear targets for reducing emissions. Other bans and
regulations are unnecessary and provide false incentives. I f we
succeed in building a global emissions trading scheme with
ambitious goals, which is as broad as possible for all economic
sectors, I’m convinced we can limit global warming to an
‘We’ve been left with a society that revolves around profit
rather than sustainability.’
We have much to thank the previous generations for: no generation
has grown up as carefree and with as many possibilities as ours.
However, it’s come at a price: we’ve been left with a society
that revolves around profit rather than sustainability, where
material prosperity counts more than individual happiness.
My professional field, science, is set up for the short term:
there are many temporary contracts, focusing on trendy topics.
But this profit-focused society has left its mark everywhere. The
environment is riddled with pesticides, exhaust gases, plastics
and much more. People are stressed and it seems they would sooner
pop pills than demand the time to live more healthily. Hardly
anyone stops to breathe.
We, all generations together, can define new goals and break out
of this established cycle, that’s exploiting human and
environmental resources. Instead of sitting passively in front of
the television and getting worked up about company bosses, we
should all be taking responsibility and consuming both more
sustainably and consciously. And we should be asking ourselves
from time to time what actually makes us truly happy.
‘We’re still teaching as though we’re in the 19th century.’
Living in the 21st century, teaching 19th century style: this is
what seems to be at the core of our schooling.
I’ve tried myself to fend this off with learning methods that
combine critical thinking and communication with creativity and
teamwork, as well as the use of digital media. My students
shouldn’t just be learning content and facts; they should be
learning how to obtain new facts, how to share work effectively
and efficiently, and how best to absorb and apply what they’ve
learned. In this way they develop openness, a willingness to
learn and also a certain degree of independence. The teacher
becomes more of a companion for learning and a moderator.
My school is open to digital media and supports me in my creative
work. I almost always use QR codes or get foreign-language
authors, into the classroom via Skype.
Yet, due to a lack of technical support, training, time and
security, few teachers can organise something like this on their
own initiative. On my page “Toller Unterricht” I publish lots of
my ideas as well as tried and tested lesson plans, with materials
Politicians have made promises to digitise schools. In addition
to the lack of qualifications teachers have, there also sees to
be be a lack of equipment. I’m glad my school has some projectors
and smartboards I can use for my lessons, but some don’t even
have Internet access.
Data protection is currently being taken to ridiculous extremes:
new data protection regulation makes the use of private computers
difficult, so some are being advised to use paper and pen. This
won’t work within the frame of a digitisation strategy for
Germany in 2018.
Therefore, a comprehensive reform is needed. Only then can we
equip all our students with the skills to prepare them for life
and learning in the 21st century.
‘It’s as if the parents think schools are responsible for raising
The older generation has paid far too little attention to
sustainable development. Sustainable development means empowering
children to form their own opinions and encouraging them to act
sustainably. Sustainable development means the current generation
is developing, not compromising the next generation, but actively
considering it. Children haven’t been sensitised to this at all.
I think there’s a very different tone in schools now. I get the
sense that kids are becoming less and less respectful. Manners
are disappearing and, unfortunately, you rarely see a boy holding
the door open for a girl. It’s as if parents think schools are
responsible for bringing children up.
Some children are only interested in who has the latest,
highest-end mobile. The children who do not have a say in this
are outside the picture — and I think that the generation above
us is responsible for instilling different values.
‘We’ve inherited a toxic political style from the generation
We’ve not inherited generational conflicts; we’ve inherited a
toxic political style from the generation before us, which has
dealt little with political change or shaping the future, and has
been more focused on how everything can remain as is. One only
has to look at how Merkel’s government has dealt with a climate
crisis and how it’s always been ignored and fought against by one
commission or another. This political style has disappointed our
generation and rightly so: it’s clear to young people that a
little isn’t enough to answer the hard questions. For example,
how can we still find well-paid and permanent jobs in 20 years’
time in spite of digitalisation?
‘The older ranks of conservative politicians are afraid of
As an activist for a united Europe, I’m always reminded of how
much of the older ranks of conservative politicians fear change.
While young people are almost unanimous in their commitment to a
united Europe, the older generation is still resistant to it,
although though the United States of Europe has been on the
agenda of previous German political figures such as Franz Josef
Strauss himself .
While old politicians are practicing against the left by
remaining on the right, today’s young people are already focusing
more on the spirit of the European Parliament, namely by looking
In the 21st century, it is no longer about just having ideas, but
about collaborating for a shared future. For example, the
campaign #FreeInterrail — a free Interrail ticket for all
Europeans as soon as they turn 18 — was devised by the youth for
the youth. Ideas like these will secure our peace and cohesion in
the long term.
Read the original article on Business Insider Deutschland. This post originally appeared on Business Insider Deutschland and has been translated from German. Copyright 2018. Follow Business Insider Deutschland on Twitter.